A Critical Look At Forever on the Mountain –

The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering’s Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters– a Book by James M. Tabor

Tabor's Misleading Speculation: The Men Could Have Been Saved...

Tabor’s story is based on his theory that the men survived the initial onslaught of the storm and then for days afterwards - waiting for rescue while, he suggests the park service did nothing. He dramatically speculates:    The stranded men died – despite Mr. Merry’s efforts – their

“…..last thoughts were curses hurled at the National Park Service’ (Tabor 2007) 

It is unfortunate that Tabor felt called to such dramatic “touches”.   If indeed his theory was true, their fate was sealed the moment they began to “wait” for others to rescue them.  Tabor knew who to talk to – he corresponded with Daryl Miller – who, as an internationally recognized high altitude search and rescue expert and climbing ranger on Mt. McKinley since 1981, had studied this accident thoroughly.  But unfortunately, he chose not to use the information Miller shared with him: 

Daryl Miller  Denali National Park Climbing Ranger 1981-present; High Altitude Search and Rescue Expert
That particular storm would have prevented any outside help for days and the seven climbers, including the one left at the 17,900 foot high camp, would have perished regardless of any rescue effort assembled anywhere from anyone.  I disagree with Tabor regarding his assumption that the National Park Service could have prevented this terrible accident in any way. (Miller 2008)
Brian OkonekFounder, Alaska Denali Guiding. Mt. McKinley Guide and search and rescue volunteer
…Your father and other rescuers are not responsible for the deaths of those that perished.  I have weathered many severe storms on Denali and participated in numerous rescues high on the mountain.  I am well aware how impossible it can be to move during high velocity wind storms and how vulnerable any climber is in such conditions.  When the climbers
became pinned down by extreme weather they were totally on their own to survive.

A rescue attempt would not only unreasonably endanger rescuers but was impossible under the conditions.  Outside help was and under the same conditions today still is unavailable.  For Tabor to think otherwise is totally unreasonable……

It is terrible that you have had to defend your father’s integrity and judgment over this incidence.  I feel that he did all that was possible.  Unfortunately there was little that could be done to help those in trouble.

People take on extreme adventures for many reasons.  One is to test themselves against the challenges of nature which is a totally unwittingly and uncaring adversary.  Success makes us feel good.  Failure exposes weaknesses.  In this case Tabor chose NPS and your father to be the scapegoat.  I am so sorry for this for I never thought of NPS failing to rescue those seven climbers.
(B. Okonek 2008)

Joe Wilcox, Wilcox Expedition Leader
It is doubtful anything could have been done to aid the upper party: for, contrary to my assessment and hopes at the time, the wind was so severe high on the peak that even in clear weather a high altitude observation flight probably could not have seen through the ground blizzard.  (Wilcox 1981, p. 476) 
Wilcox added, in recent correspondence with me that he did believe,
“The ordeal was longer with the climbers digging in…This is based not only on the men’s intelligence, skills, will to live, and common mountaineering practice.”  He also considered the location of the bodies, belongings and wands on the mountain.  “Blame for lack of rescue decisions and efforts – or encouragement can be shared by a number of people, but more responsive action would not have saved the seven.”

Paul Schlicter, Wilcox Expedition Survivor
“To me there is no great mystery.  A vicious storm resulted in the deaths of seven climbers.  Delays and bureaucratic bungling in declaring an emergency and in launching an all out rescue may have frustrated all but changes would not have resulted in saving the seven lives. 
One weakness in the book results from the author imagining what occurred and by doing so leading readers to think the summit team dug snow caves and survived for days in those caves.  I don’t believe that happened (Schlicter 2007)

This comment refers to the confusion around when an all out rescue was requested – initially Wilcox’s request was contingent on an over flight – which extreme weather didn’t allow to happen.  See additional discussion about over flights.


The REAL Truth:
"The 7 men were hit by an unprecedented storm that prevented anyone from doing any more than was done..."
The "Obvious Choice" of NPS rescue coordinator was not the most "practical choice"...
The Alaska Rescue Group (Now called The Alaska Mountain Rescue Group) was the most experienced resource available..
The Winter Ascent Rescue was not mounted in "a matter of hours" and was undertaken after their storm had abated...
An Air Force C130 or other high altitude observation plane would not have made a difference.
July 20, 1967, the day that Wilcox radioed for help.
The role of Don Sheldon & Bradford Washburn and the authors assertions about their errors and misjudgements.
Tabor's Conclusion is Wrong
Other Mistakes
An Afterword
Acknowlegements and Thanks
Attachment #1, Attachment #2, Attachment #3
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